When there is a decision you need to make, how do you decide? Or, if there is something you know you need to let go of, how do you come to the decision to take action?
A simple question you could ask yourself is this: “Does it feel heavy or light?” But is that even so simple? I’m challenging this idea in today’s post, so we’ll see where it takes me.
Typically, I share my blog posts every Friday, but, this past week, I was swamped between work and prepping for a presentation. I gave my first presentation yesterday to a room of educators on the topic of grief in children and teens. After the presentation, I had some work that I needed to do and a blog post to write. But, I just didn’t have it in me. The night before, I had gotten very little sleep. I was wiped out and the week had caught up to me. Mid-week, it felt like I was also coming down with something – so far so good.
Someone had shared a photo on Instagram that posed this question: “Does it feel heavy or light?” And, it’s gotten me thinking.
Did doing this presentation feel heavy? Yes, but not in a way that gave me a feeling that I shouldn’t do it. In fact, it felt heavy because of the weight of importance I had given it. Did I feel light in the process of giving it? Yes – energized even! I was excited to share what I’ve learned about grief and, with children/teens, in particular. This talk was about prevention. Prevention is also what the 4-week Helping Children with Loss program is about, too.
Circling back to the initial question; what does heaviness feel like, anyway? I would describe it as this feeling of resistance, tension within the body, and an intuitive knowing that it’s not easy.
If you’ve thought about participating in my next Grief Recovery Group starting August 28th, perhaps it’s a feeling of heaviness that comes over you that I described?
And here’s where I take issue with this question. Sometimes, it’s the hardest things we ever do in our lives that are the very things needing to be done. Going through the method myself, I knew what to expect – somewhat, but I knew, going in, that what I was dealing with was feeling extremely heavy.
So, perhaps this question works to ask yourself if you should go out with your friends in the evening or if it’s a Sunday afternoon and Netflix sounds better than an online meeting.
A Follow-Up Question to Ask Yourself
When it comes to the big decisions in our lives, I don’t think it’s a simple question, such as described in the first paragraph, that will help you with your next step. Maybe the best next question is: “Why?”
I wanted to educate and make an impact, with my talk, to those educators. I wanted to spread the word about the Helping Children with Loss program. I wanted to challenge myself in a way I never before had. Finally, I wanted to see how I would feel about the possibility of doing more public speaking.
Had I only asked myself if doing this felt heavy or light, I wouldn’t have done it. Yesterday in my talk, I spoke about the thought and feeling process. First, we have a thought, which is followed by a feeling, which is then followed by either action – or inaction. But, it also depends on how we choose to label the thought -with either a positive or a negative. When I first considered doing this talk, I gave the idea a positive label.
Therefore, the feelings that followed were positive, too. And, the action that I took moved me in a positive direction to where I did follow through by doing the talk.
So, going back to if you’re asking yourself if you should join me in my next group, why does it feel light? Or, more likely, why does it feel heavy?
Having gone through it myself and witnessed others going through it as well, I already know your answer.
The better question to ask yourself now is why? Why are you resisting? Why are you not listening to your heart?
At the core, is the more significant, million-dollar question that’s the hardest to answer because of the overwhelm of it…
WHAT DO I WANT?
We’re taught how to acquire things but not what to do when we lose them. And we’re taught that wanting more for ourselves is somehow wrong and selfish.
Do you want to heal your heart? If so, why?
What are you waiting for? If not now – then when?
P.S. If you’d like to register for the next group program in Wishek at the Wishek Senior Center starting Wednesday, August 18th at 7PM, please email me to do so at victoria [at] theunleashedheart [dot] com – or, get in touch if you have any questions. You can also message me on Facebook, too.
Have you experienced the death of a loved one that is painful after several months – maybe even years?
First, know that you’re normal and there’s nothing wrong with you.
Also, I’ve mentioned it many times, but it’s worth repeating, we experience grief in more ways than the death of a loved one. Perhaps you have found yourself single again after a divorce? Whether you were married six years or twenty-six years, it still causes a change in or end of a pattern of behavior in your life, which, in turn, causes you to experience grief. Add in all of the unresolved communication, regardless of the circumstances, and it all boils down to grief.
So, how productive do you think you are when you clock into your 9-5 after you’ve either buried (or said goodbye) to the person you’ve shared your life with for an extended period of time?
Do you find yourself starting one thing, only finding yourself staring into space trying to remember your last thought, and feeling overwhelmed by life itself? The very thought of doing anything feels like a heavy burden and strenuous effort. You know your mental capacity isn’t what it used to be. And if you’re self-employed or are a stay-at-home/work-at-home parent, you find yourself in the same clothes more than one day and your personal hygiene is the last priority on your list.
Life itself feels like a struggle. It’s not day by day, it’s more like minute by minute.
Hanging on…you keep hanging on.
Grief infests every nook and cranny of our lives. We are at its mercy and our minds fight only what only our hearts can heal.
The impact of grief on our productivity is profound. We think stress is our problem. We think anxiety is our problem. But, I challenge you to consider that it is grief is often the root of both stress and anxiety.
Think about it, every thought and feeling has energy behind it. So, when we don’t know how to process our feelings and we have negative racing thoughts, there’s energy that fills our bodies. However, rather than being good, positive energy, it’s depleting, exhaustion-causing energy that radiates in our bodies, infests our hearts, and consumes our minds. If that energy has nowhere to go, it has no choice but to explode as angry/emotional outbursts, physical reactions (such as a racing heart), etc., or it implodes and we experience stress, anxiety/panic attacks, and illness. How productive do you think you are during these times? This is the fight or flight response that’s naturally within us to save us in a forest with bears, but, instead of running from bears, we’re running from our hearts calling for healing in cubicles, coffee shops, corporate elevators, or in our kitchens.
And guess what – this is completely normal and natural. You’re not crazy. You’re not losing your mind and there’s nothing wrong with you. A pill isn’t going to be your magic bullet and chase your emotions away. It may calm your mind but it’s not going to get the root of why you walked into your doctor’s office in the first place. And, I say this with respect – doctors don’t know how to mend broken hearts. They attempt to do what their education has taught them, which only reinforces what society tells all of us to do – do whatever is humanly possible to avoid your emotional suffering. Because, damn it, you just need to get over it already. And, before you know it, you’re let go from your job because you’ve exhausted all of your sick time. Or, you’ve grudgingly dragged yourself back to work and secretly know it’s too soon for you and you’re struggling to keep your head above water.
Grief in the workplace is an issue for all of us to look at and address in a healthier way because grief is a fact of life. While there many articles and books that have been published on the subject of grief, very little is available on how to deal with it in the workplace. This is unfortunate because grief can dramatically impact the work environment.
The Expense of Grief in the Workplace
In 2003, The Grief Recovery Institute conducted a study to quantify the financial impact of grief in the workplace. Recognizing that people grieve not only death, but other factors as well, we studied these hidden costs related to multiple losses:
Death of a loved one
Death of extended family, colleagues, and friends
Major lifestyle alterations
Pet loss Other losses
The resulting financial loss in productivity to businesses, in 2003, was calculated to be just over 75 billion dollars! The Grief Recovery Institute is currently in the process of revising and updating this study, but preliminary figures are coming in more than 100 billion dollars in lost productivity. That is an enormous figure by anyone’s standards.
How Can You Make a Difference?
Recognizing the cost is one thing, but it is quite another to offer any type of support. I’m going to approach this from two different perspectives: management and coworkers. While management sets policies to deal with workplace situation, it is the co-workers that these grievers deal with most on a daily basis.
Most larger corporations have policies in place to deal with a variety of workplace challenges. They normally have a policy setting the number of days of bereavement time off related to a death. The national standard, that is frequently mentioned, is three days, and then only if it is an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child, or parent. It is rare that they offer time away from work for any of the other grieving situations identified in the Grief Index.
While three days may allow for time to attend a service, it certainly is not enough time to recover from the emotional pain associated with a loss. The impact of the loss not only takes an emotional toll on an employee but also effects their focus and concentration, which can certainly influence their ability to do their job. Whatever their job involves, whether it be accounting, customer service or assembly line, a lack of focus and concentration negatively impact their performance.
Please understand that I’m not saying that people in management are only concerned with productivity and not the emotional well-being of their employees. At this point we are only discussing how an emotionally painful event can relate to productivity in the workplace. Adding another day or two of paid leave is not likely to make a noticeable change in this. There are other actions that can be part of the company policy that can make a difference.
Positive Actions Management Might Consider
Since most grief generating experiences are unanticipated, it might be that this person receives a phone call that either takes them away from work or generates an immediate grieving response. In either of these situations, either a manager or someone in Human Resources who knows this individual need to inquire as to “what happened.” Knowing the answer to this question will give the best information as to how to make a difference.
This member of the management team should understand that they simply need to listen and not try to “fix” the situation. The Grief Recovery’s article, “Grief Support: Knowing What To Say And What To Avoid,” offers excellent guidelines on what they might say that will help, and those comments that might cause emotional damage. The greatest value at this point is in what can be offered to this new griever in relationship to workplace considerations. Depending on the situation possible actions might include:
Redistribution of workload to accommodate reduced concentration or time away from work. (Depending on the role of that person in the company, it would be wise to stress to this employee that this action is temporary and is in no way a “demotion.”.)
If this event will require the individual to be away from the job for any period of time, management are encouraged to ask if they might be allowed to share with other staff anything about this event. They need to explain that the reason for this question is simply to help the employee by allowing management to answer questions from concerned coworkers and thereby reduce the number of other people calling and asking what happened. Likely, this new griever will have enough to handle without fielding more calls from co-workers looking for the same information.
It would also be very positive for this company contact to keep in touch with this employee concerning how things are progressing. If the employee is away from work, this could be done via phone calls or emails. When appropriate, some of this information might then be shared with co-workers. If the grief event has not taken them away from work, these continued contacts can help insure that the griever and the management team have an open line of communication, from which they both can benefit.
If this event is the death of a family member, there may be a standard policy in place to send flowers or a fruit basket as a means of offering support. For many, this is well received, but for some it may seem an empty gesture. A better policy might be to inquire if this employee would prefer flowers, a memorial donation or food for a family meal. This type of offer allows for customizing the gesture to that employee’s specific needs.
If possible, it would serve the company well to offer an “in-service” for that employee’s co-workers on how to offer the best possible support when the griever returns to work. Advice, based on that previously mentioned article on what to say and what to avoid, could prove very helpful. It’s often the case that people have so little knowledge on this subject that they say things that add to a griever’s emotional pain after the loss, rather than reducing it.
Most companies would rather retain a valuable employee, than lose them. Since The Grief Recovery Institute’s studies have shown that employees are often less productive when dealing with an emotional loss, this can create problems in the workplace. If a loss of productivity is noted, it would be wise for companies to have support resources available. This might be in the form or having an established relationship with a Grief Recovery Specialist (cough, cough, I know someone!) or having a staff member trained in grief support services.
There are many ways that co-workers can provide support after a grief causing event. Primarily, they need to understand that grief is not just related to a death. Every major change in life can be a source of grief. Once again, that article, “Grief Support: Knowing What To Say And What To Avoid,” can be a very helpful tool in providing both verbal and non-verbal support.
While it is pointed out in the article that asking, “what happened?”, is a positive question in most situations, if this information has already been shared with them by management, it’s not something that everyone else needs to ask! It would be far better for these co-workers to begin a conversation with the comment, “The boss (or whoever) told us what happened, do you want to talk about it?” In asking this, co-workers are acknowledging the “event” and offering the griever the option of sharing more or simply expressing any feelings they might have about it.
That article points out that while there are many positive things that might be offered to help this new griever, any suggestions on how they should or should not feel about this event are things that need to be avoided. Likewise, if these co-workers have experienced similar losses, they need to understand that telling this new griever that they “know how they feel” is not helpful on any level, since we each respond differently to any given loss.
Another thing that should be avoided it talking about “The Stages of Grief.” While many people have heard about these so called stages, or grief process, they offer a griever no value in actually dealing with the emotional pain that they are experiencing after any loss. More than anything else, suggesting that they must go through these stages creates elements of confusion that often prevent them from taking valuable positive action to move beyond that pain.
Every work environment is different. Some people work for large corporations, while the vast majority of people work with just a few other employees. It’s difficult to create guidelines that will work in every situation. The goal is to point out a few basic things that can be used to the best advantage in as many situations as possible.
Perhaps the best thing that anyone can do, when dealing with grief in the workplace, is to offer the new griever information about The Grief Recovery Method as a means of taking grief recovery actions for themselves. This program is a step-by-step approach, an action based program, for dealing with the emotional pain associated with loss. It recognizes that people never “get over” a loss, but with the proper information, they can learn to survive and thrive in spite of it.
One Final Thought: Don’t Be “Captain Obvious”
Also, to show your support, it is a loving gesture to share my contact info in a [non-analytical, non-judgmental] way. A griever may react defensive, because, in society and more often in some communities, asking for help is looked down upon. If you share my info, simply say: “I see you are hurting. Here’s Victoria’s contact info; she is certified in grief recovery.” That’s it. Shut your lips after that. A griever doesn’t need to hear your reasons why you think they need help. They already know, in their hearts, without “Captain Obvious” showing up in their lives one more time. Don’t be “Captain Obvious.” 😉
P.S. Did you hear? The next 8-Week Grief Recovery Program is starting in Wishek at the Senior Center beginning Wednesday, August 28th from 7-9 P.M. weekly. Woohoo! A huge THANK YOU to the Senior Center for graciously allowing me to use their space to help more hurting hearts transform their pain into healing. Interested in registering? Email me at victoria [at] theunleashedheart [dot] com or message me on Facebook!
P.P.S. This morning, I was live on KFYR-TV ND Today where I shared the stage with one of my first group participants and had a conversation about grief recovery with Monica Hannan. I was told the clip will be shared on their website sometime today. I’m so excited to share about this on a bigger platform. Grief is normal and natural – it’s time we start treating it and talking about it like it is!
*A portion of this blog post is adapted from The Grief Recovery Method blog.
When I started The Unleashed Heart, I did not know I would become a facilitator for The Grief Recovery Method. The name was a transition from my previous website, The Unleashed Creative, where my goal was to assist entrepreneurs in brainstorming creative solutions to a pressing problem. I’m a solution-finder, researcher, and creative is how most people describe me.
When you look back on your life, are there careers or endeavors that didn’t quite pan out? What if, instead of looking at those moments in your professional life as failures, you viewed them as stepping stones?
Had The Unleashed Creative not panned out, I wouldn’t have reached out to a fellow entrepreneur to work with and The Unleashed Heart would have never been born. I also don’t know for sure if I would have found The Grief Recovery Method when I did.
When you think about your grief experiences, are there any that led you to make a change or a decision that changed the trajectory of the rest of your life?
Because we tend to avoid our pain by replacing the loss and keeping busy, we find ways to do just that. For example, that may mean moving, starting a new relationship too soon, or taking on another job.
Grief is in the Driver’s Seat
You likely have never considered that grief has been the driving force behind some (or many) of your life decisions. When I look back on my life, I know without a doubt in my mind (after receiving an education on grief), that grief caused me to make impulsive, big moves, and practically derail my life, too. In fact, at one point, I knew every daily drink special in town, had several fender-benders, and my license was one ticket away from being suspended. I also incurred credit card debt, too, and had zero savings to my name. I was sterbing (participating in short-term energy relieving behaviors) continuously.
Ways We Avoid Our Pain
What are short-term energy relieving behaviors (STERBS), you ask? Behaviors that are a way of avoiding or preoccupying yourself from your feelings. Adults STERB by shopping, fall into addiction to alcohol/drugs/porn, gambling, food, excess exercise, workaholism, gaming, etc.. Children/Teens STERB, too, with alcohol, sex, exercise, food, gaming, cutting themselves, etc..
The only way to unleash your heart, life, and full potential is to unleash your grief.
Rid yourself of the ball and chains of undelivered communications and pain within relationships with both the living and the dead. Also, fully let go by learning to forgive in a healthy way that does not require you to confront a single, living person, and that also enables you to forgive even those who’ve died. Incredible, right?
There is a method and a way to heal; however, you need to be willing to have an open mind and heart. In The Grief Recovery Method, you must be willing to confront all of the feelings you’ve done your darndest to avoid.
The following scenarios are fictional. They were written to deliver the message of how grief can show up in our lives – how it does show up in society. These examples are not meant to strike up a controversial conversation on hot-button issues. Rather, by means of making a point, that grief is all around us. We’ve just been so conditioned to see it one way and to respond in all the wrong ways.
On a warm, summer evening, a hurting heart is sitting on the steps to her home, noticeably sobbing, when her neighbor takes notice and asks: “Are you okay?” To which, the hurting heart replies, “We had to put our 15-year-old dog down this morning. Duke used to always sit next to me on the steps, and now he’s gone.” The neighbor, not knowing what to say, says what many well-intentioned people would say: “Oh, I’m so sorry; at least you can get another one!”
To the hurting heart, Duke is irreplaceable. But, because the loss of a pet is one of the most minimized losses (along with miscarriage) in society, the response is to replace the loss because dogs are a dime a dozen, right? This hurting heart has learned, from society’s response, that grieving the loss of a pet is nonsense and not comparable to the loss of human life. But, for many, their pet is their only companion. For many, their pet was their lifeline to the outside world, their comfort, and security. And, to the elderly or children, they provide unconditional love and joy. Pets disappoint humans far less than humans disappoint other humans. By the way, I can offer a 7-week Pet Loss Program. <3
Unbeknownst to Clara (a single mom of four), a registered sex offender moves in next door. One day, her 10-year-old daughter asks to go in the backyard to play with their dog in the fenced yard. Not too long after, she comes into the house. Surprised, her mother asks her why she’s done playing outside so soon. Her daughter replied that the man next door was out, too, and was staring at her and asking her a bunch of questions that made her uncomfortable. The mother asks, “What kind of questions?” The daughter replied, “He asked me the color of my panties.” The mother is immediately reminded of her negative experience as a child and begins to feel all kinds of conflicting feelings.
There are moments in life that can be reminders of grief we’ve long locked away hidden in our hearts. There are reasons why we exhibit certain behaviors or have specific thoughts and feelings around certain situations in our lives. In this scenario, the mom is reminded of her grief. She’s enraged by the feelings of fear and confusion her daughter must have felt. And, she feels a sense of guilt because this person with a criminal past moved in next door and she had no idea. She is supposed to protect her children, that’s what mothers do. Even locked away grief can slap us in the face when we least expect it.
A son marries his high school sweetheart, and together they have three children. They live only a couple of minutes away from grandparents, Joy, and Phil. To Joy and Phil, their grandchildren are their pride and joy; in retirement, they enjoy spending as much time as possible with the little loves in their lives. However, after only eight years of marriage, the couple calls it quits, the mother gains full custody and moves the children to the other side of the state. Suddenly, their entire world is shattered because their son has been unsuccessful in gaining parental rights due to false accusations and a court battle ensues. In the meantime, the grandparents (and their son), are not allowed visitation.
Grief can appear as hopelessness. We can grieve the living, just as we can grieve the dead. Let’s not forget that we all have a story and often, grief is woven into the stories of our lives. In this scenario, the father, along with his parents, all experience a loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations. They have unresolved communications with both the mother and the children about what they wish could be different, better, or more.
Jennifer is a 19-year-old enjoying life. She’s living a few hours from her hometown attending a university and makes it home often to see her parents the first semester. However, only a couple weeks into the second semester, she quits going back. Her parents grow concerned; their daughter seems to have pulled away, not even calling home as often. They decide to get in the car, drive to the university to surprise their daughter and see what’s going on once and for all. They arrive to see their daughter looking ill; she’s lost weight and doesn’t appear to be like her old, bubbly self. Their daughter confesses that an acquaintance had raped her, which resulted in a pregnancy, and she chose to have an abortion.
This is a multi-faceted grief situation. In one-fell-swoop, there’s a loss of trust, loss of hopes, dreams, expectations, and all that could be different, better, or more. A child conceived that wasn’t her choice. A child lost that was and the guilt and shame that one may feel along with this scenario. The parents grieve the child they once had because this experience surely changes a young woman. They feel a sense of guilt for not doing more to protect their daughter, which, this situation was out of their hands but as a parent, you want to protect your child(ren). The parents also grieve a grandchild they will never know – a child that was, genetically, a part of their daughter, too. One event with many ripples and a deep sea of grief to go along with it.
Amy and her mother have always been very close; they shared everything. As life went on, and her mother aged, Amy noticed her mother starting to forget appointments they had made. One time, while at her mother’s, she opened the cupboard, and to her surprise, there was a carton of spoiled milk. Amy thought all the things her mother had been forgetting were due to age; however, she now realized, it was more than that. And, within a few short months of finding that spoiled milk, her mother no longer remembered who Amy was.
Grief can find us longing for the ones we once knew and grieving for who they’ve become. Is it harder to bury someone we love after a long illness or to still be able to see our loved one where they’re not the same person they once were? It doesn’t matter. This is where comparison of loss is dangerous, in terms of how grief may impact those experiencing the deterioration of someone they love in this way. Caregivers especially, in this situation, can feel isolated in their grief. Comparison is cruel to those grieving. Simply – don’t do it; every relationship is different, including relationships within the same family.
Gabe and Alexis were high-school sweethearts; so in love, they planned to attend the same university and later marry. They both excelled in school, were achieving great things on athletic scholarships, and had big ambitions in life. Both of their parents held education in high regard and insisted their children get their degrees before they marry, to which the young couple agreed. However, no one could have planned that, in their junior year, Alexis would become pregnant. Feeling torn, Alexis didn’t know what to do. She loved Gabe and had all of the hopes, dreams, and expectations for their careers and future; they weren’t ready for a baby! Inside her mind and heart, she played out all of the scenarios. In her heart, she felt the child needed the best chance he or she could have. Alexis also knew, financially, she and Gabe couldn’t meet all the of the needs a child has. They also didn’t want to burden their parents with raising their child either. Gabe, however, wanted to try to make it work. Alexis, however, had made her decision. She was going to give the baby up for adoption. And so she did.
So many scenarios that a parent could sit up all night worrying about. Parenting is the greatest teacher but also can bring with it, a lot of grief experiences. How do you think this loss will impact Gabe? Their relationship? Do you think they would stay together? How about the impact of this loss to the grandparents? Yes, we all need to make our decisions on what is best for ourselves, however, I don’t know that we always think about how our decisions impact others. For this situation, perhaps Alexis felt adoption was the best solution. Or, perhaps, all the ways she was taught to deal with grief since childhood impacted her decision, too. What you don’t know about this scenario is if Alexis actually gave her parents the choice if they wanted to raise the child or not. Either way – grief will be the outcome because there will likely be unresolved communication between all involved parties as a whole.
Jack and Elizabeth met online. They dated for well over a year when Jack proposed marriage. Both Jack and Elizabeth came from large families; Jack is one of 6 kids, and Elizabeth, the youngest of 5. So, from the beginning, they both wanted also to have a large family. However, after three years of marriage, and still no pregnancy, they go to an infertility doctor. Elizabeth found out she has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The chances of her ever becoming pregnant, naturally, are greatly diminished. And so, their infertility journey began.
This is one of those silent, behind-closed-doors, grief-causing scenarios. It’s taboo to talk about what’s happening between the sheets and that is also true when it comes to grief, I think. People want to avoid it like the plague; both make people uncomfortable – and yet, curious so, as a society, we can’t help ourselves. Combine the two and curiosity kills the cat when you’re a young, married couple who have yet to bring children into your marriage. Suddenly, you find yourself being reminded on the regular of your grief in the difficulty (or inability) to conceive when you’re constantly being asked why you’re not having children. On the flip-side, you have one, then it’s almost expected you’ll have two because society says a child needs a sibling. Have one girl and one boy, and society says “Well, I guess that about does it, you have one of each!” Children are not possessions and children are not a given in your life either. We all know this but yet we are so conditioned to think one way. We can’t see it any other way until we find ourselves in that position. Grief can also be experienced by those who make the conscious choice to not bring children into their lives, too; let’s not forget that.
Life isn’t Fiction
I could go on and on and on – flexing my fiction-writing muscles. However, in truth, these scenarios (and many, many others) play out in lives every, single day, and they play out everywhere. Perhaps one of these is relatable to you? If so, my heart goes out to you. Grief is grief, no matter how you dice it, so no matter the circumstances in which you’re experiencing it today, I send you love and encouragement today. Recovery is possible.
Since becoming certified, I’ve heard countless stories, have received numerous messages, and have had conversations while out and about, with people who grieve. I hear time and time again things like “…but, I’m doing better,” “I give it all to God,” or “things could be worse.” All the while, however, their eyes are welling up with tears as they minimize their feelings. Having and relying on one’s faith is a wonderful part of the healing process. I would argue, however, if you rely on your faith alone for recovery, you’ll never experience what recovery truly is. I have a post brewing about faith and grief, but in the meantime, I’ll say that faith and recovery are not the same.
Causes of Grief Not Linked to a Death
Grief is not only about the death of someone close to us. Grief is the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations and the conflicting feelings that come from what we hoped would be or would have been different, better or more.It does not take the death of a loved one for grief to exist.
Abandonment in childhood
Loss of trust
Loss of relationship to someone living
Finding out you were adopted
Finding out your mother/father wasn’t your biological parent, that your parent had an affair and kept it hidden
Loss of Career
Loss of Faith
…All of the above (and then some) cause conflicting feelings, which may result in unresolved communication, which, in turn, causes grief.
Grief is often the root of what is going wrong in our lives (addiction, gambling, shopping, workaholism, promiscuity, health issues, approval-seeking behaviors, etc.) because we carry our past grief with us and greatly influences every aspect of our lives. And, because grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative (you’ll hear me say this many times), it’s imperative to your happiness and well-being that it is addressed. Grief stacked upon grief, on top of more grief – takes a toll. Everyone has a breaking point. There is only so much loss the heart can endure.
We minimize our losses to convince ourselves “we’re fine” and we apologize for our tears or pretend “we’re okay” as to not burden others with our problems. However, in all this effort to mask, conceal, and hide our pain, we’re also keeping the truth locked up like Fort Knox. And, when we’re not telling the truth about ourselves, we’re even lying to ourselves and others. What do you think that does to the psyche and heart over time?
Can You Imagine?
What if sharing our grief was no longer a burden? What if everyone was on the same page of understanding of what grief is and had the knowledge and understanding of it that enabled people to be a heart with ears? We have to start asking ourselves what it means to show ourselves (and others) compassion. As children, we naturally know how to do this – it’s we adults that pass on our influenced learning to the younger generation that is all wrong.
This world would be an entirely different place if we understood one thing: grief. What it is, what to do about it, and how to help others through it. I don’t believe we would have the suicide rates we do. I don’t think we would have the addiction problems we do. I don’t think we would have the number of broken homes we do. I don’t believe we would have the homelessness rate we do. I don’t think we would have the credit card debt we do. I don’t think we would have rates of eating disorders, abortions, and STD’s that we do – and then some. I could go on and on here, too, but you get the idea.
Having read up to this point (thank you, by the way – I know it’s a doozy of a post), take stock of the losses you’ve experienced in your life; listing them down on paper as you go. It is eye-opening when you sit down and see your life of loss, staring back at you in black and white. And then you have a choice, my friend, to either remain a victim of your grief, or to take 1% responsibility in how you will react to it, and finally take action for recovery. Support groups where everyone shares about their grief can feel helpful, and they are, in terms of creating a supportive environment and community, where otherwise, grievers tend to isolate (side note: check out the Netflix series “Dead to Me;” I’m hooked!). Therapy/Coaching is terrific, too, in its way, given you have a therapist/coach that can connect with you, creates a safe environment, and offers a means to cope. However, you’re likely not to experience recovery from grief in these situations.
How do you know if you’re not recovered?
When you think about your loss or losses, and positive thoughts and memories turn negative.
It becomes challenging to do things you used to because they serve as painful reminders.
When you find yourself repeating the same negative behaviors, there’s inner-work to be done.
If the thought of moving on feels like you’re forgetting or disregarding the person/relationship.
If you find yourself going from job to job to job or relationship to relationship to relationship – there’s inner-work to be done.
You have secrets you have never shared with another soul.
There is no longer joy in the things that once brought you great pleasure.
If you ever find yourself in the situation of someone else emotionally suffering, it’s compassionate to ask: “What happened?” Allow that person to cry and share without judgment, criticism, or analyzing; be a heart with ears and do not share about your losses, if you genuinely care about theirs. But, don’t be surprised if you receive an “I’m fine” in response. Chances are if the tables were turned, you’d respond the same way. Let’s start changing the way we respond to grief; future generations depend on it. Let’s take something that is normal and natural and actually make it feel normal and natural.
P.S. Interested in joining the next group or a future program? There are various program options from the 4-week Helping Children with Loss Program, 7-week Pet Loss Program, the 8-week Grief Recovery Group or 1:1 Program that’s non-specific to any one kind of grief. Message me about the specific program you’re interested in and I can get you on a waiting list.
Social media can be an excellent tool to reconnect with family and friends, as well as stay connected and nurture new relationships, too. However, there is also a less favorable side to social media. We all know there is cyber-bullying that is an issue not only for teens but also for adults. But, have you ever considered the harmful things people say to others who are grieving – maybe things you have spoken to others grieving?
I believe people are well-intentioned. However, even well-intentioned people can do some emotional damage to an already hurting heart. In fact, 85% of the things people say to the widowed, for example, are not helpful. Furthermore, there can be remarks made in response to someone sharing about their grief online that tell the person how they should be over their grief [by now], how they should be presently handling it, or maybe even go as far as to tell the person to stop sharing their emotional pain online. I am going to call this for what it is – grief shaming. Instead of body shaming people, grievers become victims of grief shaming: the critical, analytical, and judgmental responses to sharing their emotional pain.
This term came to me during a conversation with my mentor in grief recovery. I had not heard this term before and, in the process of writing this blog post, I googled it and alas, I can’t say it’s not an original idea. I read several blog posts by grievers who have felt grief-shamed themselves. This topic is not something new that I haven’t already blogged about, but I think it’s essential to bring to light the emotional damage unhelpful comments can do. It ultimately boils down to the fact that society has no idea what to do or say in response to grief.
When John James started The Grief Recovery Institute, he chose the name “Grief Recovery,” despite being told by many, that people will not want to talk about grief. And that is why he chose the phrase “Grief Recovery.” The narrative around grief needed to change then (in the late ’70s), and it still needs to change – unfortunately.
What I find with grief recovery, is when you begin to give yourself compassion (and recovery), it opens your heart up more fully to the pain of others. Grief recovery isn’t only about healing; it’s an education, too. And, I think we all would agree that we all could use more knowledge when it comes to grief.
Unhelpful Things Said to Grievers
Back to grief shaming, which, to me, is the feeling the griever has after sharing their emotional pain, and others share remarks that are criticizing, judging, and analyzing of what the griever shared.
I’ve said it before, but grief involves healing a broken heart, not a broken brain. The more often people attempt to fix widows and widowers, for example (or any griever), with intellectual comments and advice – the more isolated they feel. They might even start to think something is wrong with them because they are still grieving.
Here are 11 things not to say to a widow or widower:
Be grateful for the time you were married.
You’re still young. You can always remarry.
You must stay strong for your children.
Don’t feel bad, your husband is no longer in pain (if he died of an illness).
Your wife wouldn’t want you to be sad. She’d want you to celebrate her life.
Everything happens for a reason.
This might be a good time for you to get a new pet or take up a new hobby.
Make sure you donate all your husbands’ stuff to charity. You don’t need any reminders of him.
Make sure you don’t throw away any of your wife’s stuff. You will regret it.
It just takes time.
I know what you’re going through (then start talking about your own loss).
Online (or in person) remarks like these are not helpful because, although they may be intellectually valid, they’re not addressing the feelings of the heart. Therefore, they’re doing more damage than good. The griever may be left feeling shame or embarrassment for sharing in the first place when all they are trying to do is process what they’re feeling.
I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face: we don’t know what to do with our feelings when it comes to grief. Expressing them, in the only way we know or are familiar with, is what we resort to instead. And when a griever hears judgment, analyzation, or criticism, they end up grieving in isolation. So tell me, is it any wonder our obesity rate is what it is? That alcohol/drug addiction is an epidemic? The debt individuals accrue also continually increased over time. Of course, this is due to many reasons, however, on average in 2019, people are spending just as much of their income on paying down current debt as they are on accruing new debt for clothes and trips, according to a Nationwide study. Essentially, Americans are paying billions, overall, in interest and are continually in debt. In grief recovery, these modes of distraction (food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, workaholism, gambling, etc.) in our lives are called STERBS (short-term energy relieving behaviors), and I could do a whole post on this topic as well. But, I digress; back to grief shaming yet again.
Helpful things to say to a widow or widower instead:
1. What happened?
Ask what happened then listen to their reply. The most loving thing you can do for widows and widowers, who want and need to be listened to is do just that without judgment, comparison, or trying to fix them.
2. I don’t know what to say.
It’s okay, to tell the truth, if you don’t know what to say. Your honesty allows the widowed to know you are a safe person to talk to because they’ll know you aren’t trying to fix them.
3. I can’t imagine how you feel.
No two relationships are the same because they are comprised of two different people. So even if you’ve had a spouse die, you could never know exactly how another widow or widower feels. At best, only you know how you felt when your loss occurred. Comparing losses is never helpful when offering advice or suggestions.
4. It breaks my heart to hear of your loss.
Following up with a fond memory of the person who died expresses how their loved one touched your life.
5. An emoji of a sad face or tears.
An emoji expressing your feelings is a far more positive response to their pain rather than telling them they shouldn’t feel bad.
Regardless of the griever or the type of loss they’ve endured, the most helpful things you could say are likely not what your impulse tells you to say. So, I caution you when replying to a griever sharing online (or in person). Instead, dig into your heart, not your head, and approach the situation as if you’re holding the griever’s heart in your hands. Utilize the suggestions above and change them up to reflect their loss. It may be even helpful, too, to imagine them as a child. Because often, adults say things to other adults that they would never say to a child. And you know what, aren’t we all holding our inner-child in our hearts?We carry all of our losses with us from childhood into adulthood. Therefore, we are all grievers. It’s just some are willing to admit it – to others, when the most compassionate thing they could do, for themselves, is to admit it – to themselves.
Another Thing to Keep in Mind
While you may have found great assistance in your faith, at times of personal loss, do not assume this is the best way to assist others. Grievers, especially those dealing with an emotional loss caused by death, might still find themselves in emotional pain while still being secure in their relationship to their faith. They may even have conflicting feelings when it comes to their faith as well, primarily if religion/faith was used against them in past loss experience. Their relationship to their emotions and their faith are two different things! Many Christians often forget that the shortest sentence in the Bible is, “Jesus wept.” It’s only reasonable that mere mortals might cry as well, even if their beliefs are strong.
More on faith – it is my opinion that the Bible does not tell us thehow in recovering from grief. Our faith can undoubtedly help us through the darkest of days, but when thoughts of your loved one come to mind, and fond memories turn painful, recovery has not occurred, my friend. You may have convinced yourself you are, however, when another significant emotional loss occurs later and stacks on top of the ones before it, you will be taken back to that old, familiar pain you experienced before. The past hurt and pain will rise again to the surface. Revisit the section above where I talk about STERBS. Our minds concoct all kinds of ways to distract ourselves from our hearts. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the topic, too, and could do an entire post on this alone (which I eventually will).
A Final Note
As you’ve been reading this, you may believe you’ve been doing just fine with your grief. But something in my writing is perhaps needling at you, pressing a button on your heart that makes you squirm in your seat. Perhaps you even want to email me and tell me I’ve got it all wrong. I get that. What we resist persists, fellow hurting heart. I know you because I was you – and still am you in some ways because recovery is an ongoing process.
I am a work-in-progress. You are a work-in-progress. Healing is a work-in-progress, too. However, recovery is only in-progress once we can admit to ourselves that we need it. Tell the truth about yourself – to yourself. Start there. And when you’re ready, you know where to find me.
P.S. Do you want to be better equipped to help others in their grief? Click HERE to receive 61 Tips in doing so in The Guide for Loss. It’s FREE! You’ll also receive a love note from me every Wednesday – and it’s more often than not, content not shared anywhere else. 😉
P.P.S. Note: Portions of this post are adapted from The Grief Recovery Method blog.
When grievers are dealing with the emotional pain of a loss of any kind, they are constantly bombarded with advice that negatively impacts them. Most professional grief support providers know better than to say many of these things. The problem is that the vast majority of people trying to support them have no professional training. Their immediate friends try to be helpful, but just do not have the best information at their disposal to provide meaningful support.
Many of us have been told what not to say to grievers. The problem with a list of “don’ts” is that it is easy to forget. The reality is that things sometimes pop out of our mouths before we think of how those comments might be perceived. Rather than offering a list, we will be looking at a few of those comments and explain why they can be painful to the griever.
Please keep in mind that there is an enormous difference between “intention” and “perception”. Most people never intend to upset those grieving by offering advice. They are desperately trying to provide help and support. The problem arises in how the griever perceives the comment. Grievers have a reduced sense of concentration and may be highly sensitive to what they hear. Things that they might normally dispute or ignore can cut like a knife to the heart. That is why these well-intentioned remarks need to be avoided.
“Get Over It!”
No caring person wants to see another suffering. We naturally want them to feel better! After an arbitrary amount of time, many think that the passage of that time should somehow make a difference in how the griever is responding to their loss. This is frequently when people tell them that they need to “Get over it!” The reality is that when something major happens in our lives, we never “get over” it. The memories of that event will be with us forever. With the proper education and assistance, we can learn to “survive and thrive” in spite of that event.
Telling someone to get over it is often perceived as telling that person that the loss they experienced is not significant enough that it should continue to impact their life. If that loss was significant enough to cause grief, it will continue to impact their life on some level. The degree of impact is not controlled by time. Time only passes by and sets that emotional pain into place as part of their “new normal”. When that happens, not only does the griever not get over it, but rather continues to live that pain silently. They start stuffing their feelings to avoid hearing this painful suggestion again and again.
A far better thing to do is to let them know that it is possible to take grief recovery action to lessen that emotional pain. By taking such action, they will be able, once again, to enjoy the many positive memories of that relationship.
“I know how your feeling…”
No one knows how anyone else feels over their loss. It does not matter if you have had a very similar loss. You may remember how you felt after your loss, but that does not mean that you have a clue about what is going on inside this griever. Their feelings are based on their personal relationship, which is obviously different than the relationship that you grieved. When grievers hear people say this, they know it is not the truth.
For the griever experiencing the very personal emotional pain of their individual loss, hearing people continually say these words, as a means of comfort, can eventually result in anger and disbelief on a level similar to what is experienced. To make matters worse, even members of their own family, who have experienced the same loss, do not really know how others in that family are feeling.
If you have experienced a similar loss, it is better to say, “I know how it felt to me when I was dealing with _____, but how are you doing right now?” If you ask this, be willing to listen to their answer, without analysis, criticism, or judgment. Understand that there is little you can say at that moment to make this better. If you have not had a similar loss, but want to say something, you might begin with, “I can’t begin to imagine what you are going through at this time…” and invite them to tell you how they are feeling.
“They are in a better place…”
Even if you knew the deceased and are certain of this family’s faith convictions, this may or may not reflect what they are thinking. Furthermore, that person may be in a better place, but that does not make the loss any less emotionally painful, because the family is stuck here and has to deal with everything in “this place”.
The reality of things is that a person who is deeply grieving a death and constantly hearing this from others might possibly consider suicide so that they can join that person in that “better place.” This is obviously a worse case emotional response. If the family’s faith involves belief in an afterlife, they do not need constant reminders. If they are not people who hold this as part of their personal faith, it is a comment that holds no value for them.
“You shouldn’t feel bad because…”
Emotional loss is painful. Telling people why they should not feel sad does little to change that pain. If anything, they may begin to feel bad about the fact they are experiencing pain. No matter what reason you may have to offer on why they should not feel bad, it has very little impact on their level of emotional pain.
The perception of many grievers, on hearing this, is that their personal pain is not something that matters.
“You must be feeling…”
Grief can be very much like being on a roller coaster. The feelings associated with any grieving experience can, at times, be overwhelming. At other moments, the griever may feel relatively at peace with their situation. The problem, for those trying to offer support, is that we can never truly know where they are on this emotional ride. No matter what you think, you never really know how they are feeling and to suggest that you do, can easily be taken as another example of “I know how you feel”.
Grievers get very tired of people telling them how to feel. If you suggest that they are feeling sad, and at that moment they are not, they may now feel bad for not feeling what you suggested their feeling should be.
It is, again, far better to invite them to share their feelings instead.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty…”
Grievers may or may not feel bad about some of the choices they have made. Suggesting, before they say anything, that they should not feel guilty, frequently makes them think of all of the reasons why they should feel guilty. Many grievers never associated their feelings of loss with guilt until someone suggested that they should not feel guilty.
Introducing the concept of feeling guilty encourages the griever to feel that they are somehow responsible for the loss. This is rarely the case.
If on their own, grievers tell you that they are feeling guilty, it might be helpful to ask them if they are instead thinking of things they wish might have been different, better, or more in that relationship. If they say yes to this, you might begin to talk about the Grief Recovery Method actions they can take to better express and deal with those feelings.
“You should be grateful for…”
Grievers sometime perceive this as another way of discounting the honest pain they are feeling. While they might feel grateful that their loved one is no longer suffering, that does not mean that they, the griever, are not suffering.
“It was God’s will…” or “God never gives us more than we can handle…”
I have heard this expression passed on to grievers more times than I can begin to count. This may or may not reflect their personal religious belief.
This comment sometimes causes people to question their personal faith in a God that would “take their loved one from them.” Children can be particularly sensitive to this comment. In a number of situations, I have heard a friend or clergy member tell a child that “God needs your Daddy more than you!” While this is meant to be comforting, that is rarely the case. These children are often left questioning their relationship with their faith.
“They led a full life…”
This may be true, but many of us wish that we still had more time to share.
As with many statements that people make to grievers, this one is based on an element of logic. The problem is that grief is emotional and not logical. It speaks to their head, rather than their heart. As a result, it offers little or no comfort.
“You need to keep busy…”
Keeping busy does keep our minds occupied, but it does little to relieve the emotional pain of loss. When the busy work ends, the pain is still there. It is not uncommon for grievers to keep themselves busy to the point of exhaustion. They continue to repeat this cycle over and over, thinking that on some level, it will help them get beyond their emotional pain.
Keeping busy solves nothing. It is not helpful advice. Grievers would be better served with being offered recovery actions to help them move beyond the loss, rather than just being offered busy work, which encourages them to stuff their feelings.
Most of these statements and comments are things that all of us have heard other people say when we were growing up. If you think back to your childhood when adults told you to get over it and other bits of unhelpful advice, those comments likely did not make anything better. Since you heard these things from the people you trusted, you very likely still tried to make them work for your situation. It was not until I took advanced training in helping grievers that I have finally realized that they had become part of my belief system growing up, too, and that I needed to avoid falling back on repeating them to grievers.
As a grief support professional, my goal is to help grievers move through and beyond the emotional pain of loss. There is a high probability that others have encouraged you, intentionally or unintentionally, to hide your feelings.
The greatest gift you can give anyone grieving is to listen with your heart and not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
*This post is adapted from Stephen Moeller, Grief Recovery Specialist, for the Grief Recovery Method blog.*